Louisiana classrooms officially closed for the school year

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana’s interim state education superintendent on Wednesday said learning must continue even as schools remain closed, though she offered little information about how the state will support districts that struggle to provide distance learning.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday signed the proclamation officially closing school campuses for the rest of the school year.

Acting Superintendent Beth Scioneaux said helping seniors transition into their next phase of life is the top priority. Beyond that, schools will evaluate students over the next six weeks to evaluate their academic needs, she said.

“We need to make sure we understand how to start up the next school year strong,” she said.

Scioneaux, who participated in Edwards’ COVID-19 media update, said department officials will speak with district leaders Thursday about how the state can support their efforts. By the end of the week, the state Department of Education says it will issue guidance to school systems about retaining and promoting students in grades kindergarten through 11 and ensuring access to technology for all students.

While the department ultimately will defer to districts on the best ways to meet students’ needs, she said the department likely would not recommend replacing traditional grades with pass/fail.

“We do know that there are different varieties of distance learning,” she said. “Some high tech, some low tech.”

A state survey found almost half of districts were not offering distance learning. Many students, particularly in lower income households and rural areas, don’t have ready access to the internet.

“We must now move ahead with a sense of urgency and thoughtfulness in developing plans for the future that address and correct learning gaps resulting from COVID-19,” Sandy Holloway, president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in a prepared statement.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Wednesday announced she is extending the city’s “stay at home” order until May 16. Edwards said he was not consulted on the decision, but noted that it was natural for some cities to handle the pandemic differently than others and the New Orleans region is among the hardest-hit in the nation.

Edwards’ statewide order expires at the end of April. He expects to issue additional guidance before then and said requiring some people to wear masks in public or at their jobs might be considered.

“We do know that there are going to have to be some additional mitigation measures in order to try to keep the cases from spiking again,” he said.

Louisiana reported 90 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the second-most reported in a 24-hour period after Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 1,103. But hospitalizations and ventilator usage are continuing to decrease.

“We have flattened the curve,” Edwards said, while stressing that mitigation efforts must continue. “It’s doesn’t take much for the cases to spike.”